An Introduction to Zach Veach
Zach Veach started his racing career in 2007 racing karts. As it happens, Zach was racing in central Ohio and attracted the attention of David Fisher, father of IZOD IndyCar Series driver and team owner Sarah Fisher. Mr. Fisher was impressed enough with Zach’s driving that he coached his and help Zach develop his racecraft over the next two years. During that first year of competition, Zach racked up quite an impressive list of accolades. Here’s a list of his 2007 accomplishments.
2007 (Age 12)
- Set Yamaha Jr. Sportsman Track Record at Circleville (Ohio) Raceway Park
- Mid-state Ohio Karting Club Points Championship for Yamaha Jr. Sportsman Class
- Mid-State Ohio Karting Club Rookie of the Year
- Scored 12 feature wins and 26 heat wins in the MSOKC circuit (Ohio)
- Commercial Point Grand Prix Champion (Ohio)
In 2008, Zach continued his habit of setting track records everywhere he went.
2008 (Age 13)
- Mid-State Ohio Karting Club Points Runner-Up Yamaha Jr. Class
- Set Mid-State Ohio Karting Yamaha Jr. Track Record
- Set fast time 9 out of 12 events, 2008 MSOKC circuit
Zach moved up to shifter-karts for the 2009 season and excelled in the faster machines. He took two championships that season and was impressive enough to secure a testing program with Formula BMW America which then lead to a test and eventual signing with the Atlantics Championship team Jensen Motorsports. Unfortunately, Jensen Motorsports was the only team to officially make an entry in the 2010 Atlantics Championship and the series folded, leaving Mr. Veach on the outs and looking for a ride.
2009 (Age 14)
- GLSS New Castle (Ohio) 80cc Shifter Kart Champion
- Indiana Karting Series New Castle Shifter Kart Champion
- Formula BMW Testing
- Formula Atlantic Testing
On March 26th of this year, Andretti Autosport announced their signing of Zach Veach as their second driver in their US F2000 National Championship team. Zach will join Sage Karam beginning with the USF2000 exhibition race this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and then back to Indianapolis for the Night Before the 500 event at O’Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis. This will be Zach’s first and second competitive outing in cars, and it will be his first time competing on an oval. We had a conversation with Zach and asked him thoughts about the upcoming season with Andretti Autosport, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, and his plans for the seasons to come.
Doug Patterson: What first drew your interest in motorsport?
Zach Veach: I will never really know, since I can remember I have wanted to do it!
DP: Many of us have been attracted to motorsport since we were very young, but most of us never actually get beyond racing indoor karts on the weekend. What motivated you to get behind the wheel and drive competitively?
ZV: Well, it was something I always wanted to do. When my dad quit competing in the Lucas Oil Sponsored Truck and Tractor Pulling Series, he let me start driving. I had years of built up desire. I get up in the morning and want to work out or go to the kart track. While other kids my age are playing on Xbox, I’m on the simulator learning tracks with my teammate.
DP: We understand that Sarah Fisher’s father, David Fisher, helped you out as you were getting started providing some coaching and presumably some insight into the business of motorsport. How did you meet David Fisher? What influence did he have on your karting career?
ZV: It’s funny how we met Dave. My dad and I were at the kart track testing before our first race and he came up and said “Hi, I have tinkered with Yamaha engines before, would you want some help?” It was a couple weeks of him helping us before we really knew who he was, when we visited his house a couple weeks later there was sprint car and midget photos of Sarah Fisher. Dave gave me the fundamentals that have allowed me to move as far and as fast as I have, he is someone I can always look to for advice.
DP: Those of us who follow the motorsports scene at any level understand that it certainly takes more than talent to secure a season-long drive at any level. How did you finance your initial karting adventures, and how much time do you have to spend off-track engaging businesses to support your efforts on-track? We see that you’ve been pretty successful in securing several sponsors already, so you must be doing it right.
ZV: Securing financing is always the toughest part of racing. I have been very fortunate. When my dad quit competing so I could race he reinvested the money from selling all of his racing equipment to get me started.
Off the track I do my best to be creative and to come up with things that separate me from others. The biggest thing I have to do is to be able to create return on investment for the companies who partner with me. Many people think you just put the sponsor’s name on the side of the car and that is what they get for the money they invest in your racing but, it is so much more. When they invest in you, you become a part of their company and it is your job to help them build awareness to their products and services. Ultimately you help them sell more of their products and services.
I have been lucky enough to have some help from Klint Briney of Branded Management, who has been working with me for a while. He helps me find opportunities to bring more funding into my racing, because the next few years are going to be really expensive. Without the proper funding I will not be able to pursue my goal of being an Izod Indy Car driver.
DP: Tell us about your Formula BMW America testing. That was your first time in a car rather than a kart, wasn’t it?
ZV: FBMW was my first time in a car rather than a kart. I really learned a lot from Dave (Fisher) during this transition from karting. Dave taught me to listen to what I felt and how to give good feedback and to communicate. He also taught me about car setups. There were days I thought he was teaching me to be an engineer rather than a race car driver. In addition to Dave, Sarah Fisher and Andy O also helped a lot. While I was making this transition Sarah would always take the time to answer my questions on how to do things in the car and Andy made sure we had what we needed making me fit in the car.
DP: The unfortunate demise of Formula BMW America at the end of 2009 had to be assuaged a bit by your test in a Swift 1-A and your subsequent signing with Jensen Motorsports to run the 2010 Formula Atlantics Championship. Tell us how that deal came about. What did you think of the Swift 1-A?
ZV: We were on the fence as to whether I was going to run the BMW series or just go ahead and move to the Atlantic Championship. We decided after talking with Eric Haverson at Mid Ohio in 2009, that we would purchase a car and run the Atlantic Championship. So we purchased the car and Dave Fisher spent the next month rebuilding it because it was pretty rough when we bought it. We started testing in September, right after Dave completed the car and Dave did his usual of stepping me through the process. He brought me up to speed and taught me next steps like he had done so well in all the other steps he had taken me through from karting to cars.
We tested several times with Dave over the next few months with our car. During this time, Eric Jensen pursued us and Dave was offered a position to help a team with a USAC midget and Sprint Car (something that has been his passion for years). So, we decided we would run the Atlantic Season with Jensen.
Driving the 016 was a great experience, I really love these cars, the down force is amazing.
DP: As soon as you sign with Jensen Motorsports, it rapidly becomes clear that you were the only entry for the 2010 Atlantics season and the series folded. That had to be crushing. What were your thoughts at that point? Were you thinking of going back to karts, hanging up the helmet, or did you have some other leads?
ZV: The day we learned that the Atlantic Series folded was defiantly a tuff day for us but, “hanging up the helmet” is never an option for me. My dad and felt like we had a transporter, an Atlantic car and a Formula BMW Car (along with a go karts), so we were going to at least do some testing over the summer.
The biggest frustration that this was the second series I had worked so hard preparing for and both ended due to the economy.
DP: A deal came together between you and Andretti Autosport late in the month of March for you to drive in the revived US F2000 series beginning this May at the Night Before the 500 event. How did you get connected with Andretti Autosport?
ZV: From what I understand John Brunner, who was a member of the Atlantic Championship Management, was at Andretti’s shop after the announcement that the Atlantic Championship ended and suggested that they contact us. JF Thormann called us and the next thing I knew we were on our way to Indy to meet with them. I will never forget meeting Michael for the first time. JF was giving us a tour of the building and we walked into an office that Michael was standing in. He looked at me with a big grin reaching his hand out to shake mine and said “Hi I am Michael Andretti” I was speechless for a few seconds.
DP: You just completed a test at O’Reilly Raceway Park in Indianapolis in preparation for the Night Before the 500 race. Was this your first outing in a USF2000 car? What did you think of the car and of oval racing? You posted the third fastest time for the two-day test, so obviously there must be something about the car and track that agrees with you.
ZV: Actually we were at the series test a week before and that was my first time in the car but this was my first oval. After running the oval, it’s going to be a hard choice for me to chose between an oval and road course, I feel that I have a little more work to do as a driver but, I think we can do well.
DP: You are now a driver for one of the best organizations in all of American open-wheel racing. What type of pressure does it place on you to be driving for a legend in IndyCar racing like Michael Andretti?
ZV: It’s a great honor for me to be a part of such a great team like Andretti Autosport and to be able to work with Michael Andretti. A friend told me that pressure is a privilege and he is right, I just have to keep working hard and trying my best! I want more than anything to be able to move through the Road to Indy Program with Andretti Autosport and to have a Izod Indy Car career with them.
DP: Your teammate, Sage Karam, dominated the field at St. Petersburg earlier this year. Will this be the first time you’ve had a teammate? How does having a teammate, especially one as quick and talented as Sage, affect your efforts on track?
ZV: Sage is the first teammate I have had and it has been a blast working with him so far. He is a great driver and I was extremely happy for him when he won St. Pete. The biggest benefit of having a teammate like Sage is the we will always challenge each other making us push that extra 10%.
DP: What realistic goals do you have for the 2010 season?
ZV: Like every other driver, I want to do the best I can. I feel that as long as we keep working hard, on and off the track, we can finish on the podium. The competition level in the USF2000 Series will be strong this year, so we can’t count anyone out.
DP: Obviously, you have ambitions beyond US F2000. What are your plans for 2011?
ZV: Depending on how the USF2000 series goes and how successful we are at raising funding, I might move Star Mazda for 2011.
DP: Are you attending the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race this year? Have you been to the Race in the past? What do you think of the Speedway?
ZV: Would love to be featured at the 500 for winning the ORP race! The Indianapolis 500 was the first IndyCar race I went to three years ago. The 500 is always my favorite race and I hope someday to be driving there!
DP: You’ve started a safety awareness program, Ziggy’s Teen Safe Driving Campaign, and have even given a presentation about the hazards of texting while driving to the Ohio State Legislature. Tell us more about your program. Why and how did you get this campaign started?
ZV: I started this program because of an accident near my home in which a teen was killed. This really bothered me because it made me realize this person lost their life before they even had a chance to live it. After this I started paying more attention to accidents involving teens and was astonished how many teens lose their lives from auto accidents every year. I also learned something more disturbing. The number of people who lose their lives every year because of distracted driving which effects all age groups.
Distracted driving is only going to get worse as my generation begins to drive because unlike generations before us we have grown up with instant communication and 82% of us have a personal cell phone This makes us continuously available anytime our friends want to reach out to us. Therefore, we feel if our friends do not immediately hear back from us, we are being rude or ignoring them. For this reason, we text no matter what we are doing, even driving. Texting while driving is very dangerous because teens are the least experienced drivers on the road and auto accidents are the leading cause of death for 16-19 year olds.
I feel that I am in a position where I can help influence others not to text and drive. I hope people realize that even me a professional race car driver who is use to driving at speeds over 150mph will not text and drive and they shouldn’t either.
So far for this campaign I have written an Iphone and Android phone application that automatically sends a text back to the number which texted you and let’s them know you are driving and you will call as soon as you can. I have this application so you can create your own message to send back and you can personalize what you send back.
In addition to the phone app I am partnering with Oprah on getting all 33 drivers of the Indy 500 to sign her No Phone Zone Pledge. When I all 33 drivers sign Oprah’s pledge they are also signing the back of an Apple iPad which will be auctioned off on CharityBuzz.com to benefit FocusDriven.
I am also writing a book, which will be released on my 16th birthday that covers a lot of the things that teenagers go through as they are turning 16, there is a chapter on getting your license and learning how to drive.
DP: Zach, thank you for taking time out to chat with us. We really appreciate it, and its been a privilege and an honor having you at OpenPaddock. Hopefully, we’ll also be talking with you after your first US F2000 win, eh? If you would, though, two more things. First, if you could spend a day with any driver, current or past, at any track, what driver and track would it be and why?
ZV: As far as past drivers, I have the honor of driving for Michael Andretti one of the Greatest American Open Wheel Drivers, and was fortunate enough to get to spend a day with him last week when he coached Sage and me on the oval test. It was a little intimidating at first especially when the first die cast Indy Car model I ever bought was one of his Jim Beam Car. Within minutes of talking with him he made me feel very comfortable and taught me a lot about oval racing in one day. I hope one day I get to spend the day with him coaching me at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the Indy 500
As far as present drivers, who wouldn’t want to spend a day with Danica Patrick? I also would love to spend a day with Tony Kanaan at the Indianapolis 500.
DP: Lastly, we have fans of just about every form of motorsport at Openpaddock, from sports cars, open-wheel, and rally, from all across the country, and even a few in other countries. Anything you’d like to say to our readers in parting? .
ZV: I would like to thank you and your readers for the opportunity to tell you about my racing.
Keeping up with Zach
We certainly appreciate Zach for taking a bit of time away from what we know must be a very busy schedule to speak with us. We here at OpenPaddock.net certain wish him all the best in the coming season, and hope to see him continue to move up through the Road to Indy ladder system. Zach is all over the various social media sites in addition to writing on his own blog. Here’s how you can keep up to date on his latest racing adventures.